The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: 1919 Page 1 of 2

One City Shop Selling 1,100 qts. of Whiskey Daily

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice: “What’s the matter with it?”

Nearly Everybody Around Yonge and Front Seems to Carry a Handbag.
Govt. Dispensary Sells Alcohol, Too
Far More Sick People Requiring Prescriptions on Saturday Than on Other Days.

By Gregory Clark, November 1, 1919.

Looking at the passersby at the corner of Yonge and Front streets, one would conclude that about seventy-five per cent of them were traveling salesmen. For they all carry some sort of a little hand-bag. The little square miniature suitcase is the favorite style. But the variety runs from the plain old family valise down to the homely sateen shopping bag.

The style of bag doesn’t matter, so long as it will contain one quart bottle of whiskey.

For this stream of apparent salesmen is nothing less than the eight hundred daily customers of Ontario Government Dispensary, No. 1, of 29 Front street east.

Eight hundred to a thousand customers a day is the average run on this, the leading Government liquor store in the Province. And one quart of whiskey is the average purchase. Saturday the customers average as high as 1,700 to 2,000. Thus we an arrive at the conclusion that Toronto consumes per day about one thousand one hundred quarts of liquor from this source.

The Government Dispensary on Front street is one of two in Toronto, the other being at the corner of Dundas and Dovercourt road. It is one of seven in Ontario, the others being one each in Ottawa, Kingston, Hamilton, London and Windsor.

But the Front street shop, which is the liquor headquarters of the Province, does fifty per cent of all the business of the Province, or as much as the six other shops put together. This includes not only the large daily trade over the counter to Torontonians, but also an immense mail order trade, the liquor being shipped by express to all points in the Province.

Liquor Headquarters

But this liquor headquarters hath a mild and orderly appearance, for all its activity. The shop itself is no larger than the liquor shop of the bad old days. One wall is entirely covered with shelves full of liquor. The back of the shop is occupied by three little cages, labelled, “Censor” and “Cashier.” The main part of the room is nicely railed off with iron bars like the approach to the ticket booths at the Exhibition.

The customer on entering the shop is directed into the railed runway by a Provincial policeman, who keeps order to the shop. The runway leads to the censor’s cage.

The censors, much to the customer’s astonishment, are not fierce and skeptical old men, but demure and dainty young ladies.

The customer produces his “doctor’s prescription” for one of these fair young censors to look at. She gives it a once over and stamps it. The customer moves on to the cashier’s cage and pays the price of his liquor. Then he reaches the counter, where three busy salesmen are at work. One of these takes the customer’s prescription, skewers it on a file and hands out the quart of whiskey, gin, wine or pure alcohol, as called for.

Then the customer slips his bottle into the little hand-bag and emerges into the open with the keen expression of a stationery salesman looking for business.

It is amazing to watch the lineup of patients at Store No. 1. There are the elderly, dignified old business gentlemen and the poor draggled, old washerwomen; rakish, tilt-hatted toughs in their dancing clothes, and slim, cool-eyed young business men, who have been smoking cigarets for two years; rich, poor, old and young.

Here comes a furiously-bearded old foreigner in a frock coat.

“Vishnick!” he cries, hoarsely, to the Provincial Policeman.

Foreigners Get Alcohol

“Vishnick’s all gone,” says the young lady censor.

” Vishnick! Vishnick!” yells the old man, violently, waving his special prescription from the rabbi.

“All gone!”

“Fini” shouts one of the cashiers, who wears a returned soldier button.

“Napoo!”

And the prophetical-looking old man is ushered out, hoarsely roaring “Vishnick!”

Here comes a poor, seedy little old man with the marks of the demon on every part of his frail old form. And he assumes a jaunty and assured air that fits him ill.

He presents his prescription to the fair censor. She gives it the critical eye, apparently finds something amiss with it, and calls the Provincial Policeman over to look at it.

The little old man’s assurance begins to fail him, but he demands in a quavering voice, “What’s the matter wiff it?”

The moment the Policeman turns his back to go and telephone the doctor whose prescription this purports to be, the little old man wheels, and with remarkable agility, makes a lightning exit, and returns no more.

Here come two high-cheeked sandy mustached Russians, who each secure one quart of pure alcohol.

This mystery we later discuss with Assistant Deputy Chief of Police, Robert Geddes.

“Surely,” we protest. “It is as plain as day that those Russians get that pure alcohol for no other purpose than to manufacture more liquor in illicit stills!”

“Possibly, possibly!” replied the Assistant Deputy. “But you must also take into consideration the racial peculiarities of the Russians. They take a thimbleful of this pure alcohol and hold it in their mouths till their eyes pop from their sockets and their heads are bathed in sweat. That cures all their ills. Furthermore, the Russians mix alcohol with their porridge, soup, and other foods. Very nourishing, they say.”

From the above facts, the following truths appear to arise:

That one out of every five hundred men, women, and children in Toronto require one quart of whiskey per day for the relief or cure of disease, at a doctor’s order.

That on Saturday there are twice as many sick people who require whiskey as there are on other week days.

That Russians are a peculiarly constituted people, whose ailments are better treated with pure alcohol than by whiskey or gin. There were sixty-nine quarts of pure alcohol sold last Saturday, part of it to Russians.

These things we took to Chief License Commissioner J. D. Flavelle.

With regard to the young lady censors, he said:

“They are supplied with copies of all doctors’ signatures. They can censor quite as well as any man could.”

With regard to the selling of liquor to doubtful-looking customers and of pure alcohol to foreigners, Mr. Flavelle said:

“We have no responsibilities whatever in that regard. We have simply to carry out what the doctor’s prescription calls for. The responsibility for the amount of liquor and for the sale of the liquor rests wholly upon the doctors of Ontario.”

Twice a month the Dispensary furnishes the Board of License Commissioners with a complete list of sales, showing the number of prescriptions issued by each doctor. These records are kept on file, and are open to the inspection of the Provincial Government.


Editor’s Notes: This article shows the craziness of early prohibition in Ontario. People would need doctor’s notes for purchasing alcohol for “medicinal” purposes, but obviously people were breaking the rules. Everybody knew it was nonsense, hence the mocking tone of Greg’s writing about the “patients”, and “sick people”, and how everyone wanted to hide from others that they were buying alcohol by carrying their little bags. It is also a little racist, pointing out that “foreigners” or “Russians” can buy pure alcohol, and the assumption is they are up to something illegal. I was also struck with how few stores initially existed, with the rest of the province having to rely on mail-order, not unlike the roll-out of legal cannabis in Ontario in 2019, 100 years later.

“Vishnick”, or Vishnyak is a cherry liqueur popular with Eastern European Jews at the time.

Even a Street Car Strike in Toronto Has Its Compensations

June 28, 1919

A Jitney is a vehicle for hire which falls between a taxicab and a bus. You can see a photo of a truck carrying passengers during the streetcar strike of 1919 here.

Real Stories of the War, Told by Returned Soldiers

March 8, 1919

Jim produced two illustrations for a selection of short anecdotes that were published in the Star Weekly from submissions from veterans of the Great War. The newspaper offered cash prizes. The first illustration was from the first prize ($10) winner “Captured by the Relief”.

March 8, 1919

The second illustration was from the second prize ($5) winner “Huns Behind our Lines”. All other winners of stories published received $1. $1 in 1919 is about $13.50 in 2020.

The Thirty-Seventh Plane

February 1, 1919

This is a very early illustration by Jim for an article about psychics. This time would be at the very tail end of the popularity of spiritualism the reached prominence in the Victorian era.

Bringing in the New Year

December 27, 1919

It is encouraging to see that very early in Jim’s career (when he drew his comic in a realistic style), that he did not resort to physical stereotypes, as was common in comics of the era. See my post on About Stereotypes for more information. Though Jim did not use a physical stereotype in this comic, the speech of the Black man still is.

The Hotel Lobby

February 22, 1919

“Grips” was slang for suitcases.

Life’s Little Comedies – 7/5/1919

July 5, 1919

This early comic shows Jim taking the day off to go fishing. The self portrait here looks nothing like him, but maybe that was not the goal. Also note that it was common for fishermen to keep their drinks attached to the boat under the water to keep it cool. He labels the jug “Buttermilk Only”, to leave you guessing since Prohibition is still in affect in Ontario.

Battery Action

Battery Action! the Story of the 43rd Battery was one of many post-world War One books published by returning soldiers. The 43rd Battery approached Jimmie Frise (who himself was also in the artillery) to illustrate their book which was published in 1919. The authors were Hugh R. Kay, George Magee, and F.A. Maclennan. These are the illustrations provided by Jim. They were also reprinted in The First Great War as seen by Jimmy Frise (1972). The original book was also reprinted by CEF Books in 2002.

Note that in the First World War, there was extensive use of mules to transport artillery shells to the guns. Click on each image for the full view.

At The Station

April 12, 1919

This comic depicts soldiers returning to Canada from World War One.

Give Fair Play to Belgians – They Treated Canadians Well

Imagine Your Own Home, Your Attic, Cellar, and Backyard With a Platoon of Strange Soldiers Camped in It Who Do Not Speak Your Language – They Flirt With Your Daughters, Chop Your Fences Down for Firewood, Sing Late Into the Night, and Then March Away Before You Get Well Acquainted and Another Lot Takes Their Place – And This Goes On Year After Year – Be Thoughtful, Boys.

By Greg Clark – January 18, 1919

Our good friends the Belgians are meeting with rather rough treatment at hands of some of the returned soldiers. Since my return, both in Toronto and out in the Province, I have been asked at least a score of times questions such as:

“Now, what about the Belgians? Here we have been working for four years, collecting clothing, raising money by charities and doing all manner of things for the Belgians. And So-and-so, just back from the war, tells us that the Belgians are a low and cheating people who treated our soldiers very shabbily, refused to let our tired boys drink from their pumps, robbed them of their money!

Have we, then, been working hard for an undeserving, almost an enemy people?”

This question is being asked everywhere. where. If only to still the doubts over that splendid charity that been exercised by thousands of Canadian women the last tour years, not to mention the fidelity we owe to our historic and splendid little ally, Belgium, the question needs an answer.

And I think the answer is that the comments of returned soldiers regarding Belgians are thoughtless anecdotes in France.

I have heard twenty or thirty such anecdotes in France. But in two sojourns on the Belgian front I never seen a definite case of ill-treatment of our men. In fact, I have encountered the same good-natured, generous and friendly spirit in Belgium that we found in France.

To realize the utter injustice of these reports on the Belgians we have only to look at the map. See what a little narrow strip of Belgium was in our hands. See how little of Belgium and how few Belgians it was possible for our soldiers to meet. There is Ypres on the last tragic acre of Belgium. And were there many Belgians in Ypres? And nearly every Canadian soldier has a good memory of Poperinghe (good old “Pop,” where so much lace and so many silk cushion covers, souvenirs de la guerre, and eggs-and-chip meals have come from). Yet Poperinghe is in Belgium.

Was there any stiff line of demarcation between Poperinghe and Steenvoorde, that is, in spirit? Yet “Pop” is in Belgium and Steenvoorde is in France!

No doubt there have been cases of petty meanness and cheating in the Ypres front. There have been such cases on every front. But up on the border, where France and Belgium meet, the people nearly all speak Flemish.

Far back into France, miles from the Belgian border, Flemish is heard as often as French. There is no definite border between the two races of people. But to the Canadian soldier, anyone who spoke Flemish was a Belgian.

To credit all Belgians with the character of a few ill-tempered and thievish members of a mixed border people is a rank injustice.
And furthermore, to judge either the Belgians, Flemish or French people from the samples encountered along the fringe of the fighting line is most absurd.

Imagine your own home, your attic, cellar and back yard with a platoon of strange soldiers camped in it. They do not speak your language. They are tired. They tramp through your halls and peek curiously into your own room. Sometimes they sing late at night. They flirt with your daughters. In the middle of the night you hear someone chopping something. You wonder if it is your back fence or your cellar door or what that is being turned to firewood? And then before you have a chance to make the acquaintance of these men and earn their goodwill, they up and march away, and an entirely strange platoon lands in on you.

That’s the life of the householder in the war zone. Not for a day. But day in and day out, year after year.

And mind you, there’s nothing wrong with that platoon. It is a platoon of as fine gentleman as any country ever boasted of sending to war. Good gentlemen every one. But, as I say, they are warriors. They are tired. And my description holds good.

Can you wonder, then, at here and there our boys encountered some crabbed old dame whose good humor failed under the strain, and who might charge them double price for an omelette or in a rage refuse them water. Poor, nerve-wracked, upset creatures! The wonder is not that they fail to recognize us occasionally as allies and friends but they remembered the fact that all.

So let us catch these tales of the Belgians on the wing and stop them. Come down to brass tacks and ask the thoughtless soldier who makes these statements on what wide knowledge of Belgium he condemns the Belgians and throws a cloud on our staunch ally and takes the heart out of what patriotic work has been done for them.

And his reply will be:

“Well, among the mixed Flemish, French and Belgian races of the Ypres area, I have encountered certain cases of meanness.”

Some of these reports are based not on the experiences of our boys at the front, but experience with refugees in England. But can we justly judge a race from the misconduct of a refugee or two?

Let us remember, instead, the good Belgian woman who threw open her house, barns and orchard to shelter our whole battalion that early morning near Cassel, when we were ready to drop to a man on the paved road. I just remember the jolly fat lady at Kootenlook near Caestre who had the pretty blonde daughters and who made such divine, fairy-light omelettes. We can find a hundred memories like them to offset one memory of cheating or claim of damage, in all our campaigning from Ypres to Amiens. And they sound better to our friends in these days of peace.


Editor’s note: This was the first news story written by Greg and illustrated by Jim after they started working at the Star Weekly when they returned from the war. It was originally published on January 18, 1919 (the day the Paris Peace Conference began). Belgium had only recently been liberated in the months prior, and the story illustrates the friction that can occur even between liberators and the local population. Britain (and Canada) had only joined the war (in theory) because Belgian neutrality was violated by Germany in 1914, and for much of the war, relief donations were collected for “Brave Little Belgium”.

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